We have really loved adding Indian Runner ducks to our backyard livestock mix, but it has been a challenge to keep up with their needs over the last year. Although I had reservations, Jay has been patiently making the case to simplify our backyard livestock. We agreed to find a new home for the ducks and instead add to our existing chicken flock.
I still believe backyard ducks are an excellent choice for modern homesteaders, especially in the northwest where they really enjoy our wet weather. They have been prolific layers for us, with four ducks giving us more eggs than we could possibly use. They gobble up slugs and worms, for the most part leaving our veggies and other plants alone in the backyard. Their warm coats keep make them a great option for colder climates as well, where chickens might struggle with harsh winters.
Along with the good comes some challenges. Backyard ducks require more space than chickens. Ideally they should be allowed to free-range in your fenced backyard. And they really benefit from a water element, like a kiddie pool or small pond to play in.
But the biggest challenge was cleanliness. Ducks are messy! Bigger housing means a bigger area to clean every week. The pool water needs to be changed everyday. Their drinking water needs to be changed everyday. Their food gets everywhere as they like holding it in their mouths while dunking their heads in the drinking water to wash it down.
Of course there are ways to make this easier. You could build a pond hooked up to a drainage hose, so you can empty the water easily. You could rig up an automatic feeder, to excess food doesn’t sit around and get soggy with all the water splashing around. But trying to make time for these new projects with a baby and work schedules was just too tall an order.
I’m still conflicted about it all. To us, “pets” are inside companion animals we make a lifetime commitment to. Livestock are outside animals that we agree to keep safe, clean and fed in exchange for food – be that eggs, meat, honey, etc. That’s the deal and our emotions take notice. I was heartbroken when our old greyhound passed away last year, but felt fine butchering a chicken we raised when it turned out to be a rooster.
The ducks somehow managed to blur that line. Although I found them a great home on a couple acres just outside town, I really felt sick when they moved off our homestead. I raised them from ducklings, went through the pain of losing one to a raccoon, enjoyed watching them for hours waddle around our backyard and always imagined they would be a part of our homestead (see all past duck posts).
Things feel a little quieter without the quacking coming from the side yard. I find myself savoring each and every last duck egg from this past week. There are new feathered friends moving in soon, but it’s a bittersweet change on our homestead this spring.